Horse bedding: for many horse-owners, it’s pretty straightforward.
Wood shavings tend to be the most popular bedding used for show and pleasure horses; straw tends to be the most popular bedding used for race and breeding horses. In an industry where tradition is king, we’ve been experimenting with different types of bedding for years, but never straying too far from the beaten path.
But are straw and shavings as good as we can do for our horses and our farms? Increasingly, curious scientists, horsemen, and entrepreneurs are seeking out new alternative (and sometimes ancient) forms of bedding that are more absorbent, contain fewer allergens and dust, and compost better than our old reliable stand-bys.
Kenaf might be the oldest bedding you’ve never heard of. That’s because kenaf, a fast-growing relative of more common plants like okra or jute, has a history dating back to 5,000 B.C., when it was cultivated in India. The fibers from kenaf are incredibly absorbent, and it’s being marketed for horse bedding along with erosion control, textiles, composites, and other industrial uses. Since its closer in nature to cotton than wood, dust content is much lower, and marketers tout a rate of absorption three times that of wood shavings. Kenaf is being brought into production in the southeastern United States, and while availability is currently limited, it’s slowly growing in popularity. Try www.kenafgroup-intl.com for more information.
Peat Moss is traditional bedding with a lot of potential. Its major downfall: it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t easy to find. If you love the look of a shining golden stall filled to the brim with clean shavings or fresh straw, the darkness of a stall bedded down with peat moss will probably bring you down. But peat moss has been used as horse bedding for centuries for a very good reason: it’s incredibly absorbent. If your barn doesn’t have the best air circulation, or you have horses with compromised respiratory systems, absorbency — to cut down on ammonia odor — is king. Peat moss might not be pretty, but it soaks up urine and keeps a stall fresh smelling. And if you compost, peat moss works great in the compost pile — it’s the bedding that keeps on giving.
Paper Shavings are becoming increasingly available in the United States, and are as environmentally and horse-friendly as a person could wish for. Fully biodegradable and perfect for composting, using paper — generally newspaper — has the added benefit of reducing landfill usage and freeing up farmland that might have been used for bedding crops. Although newspaper might be acquired and processed directly from a local plant, buyers must practice due diligence in assuring that the paper has no toxic contaminants; there are dealers who specialize in producing non-toxic, absorbent paper shaving bedding specifically for animals. Try PaperShavings.com for more information.
These three bedding options, some old-fashioned, some newly discovered, all provide options to the traditional wood-and-straw beddings horsemen have used for so long. More compostable and absorbent, with less dust to irritate nostrils and lungs, kenaf, peat moss, and paper shavings have the potential to improve not just your horses’ health, but decrease the waste your farm is producing — and that’s good news for everyone.